Notes from the Road – Scandinavia + Budapest

I’ve been solo backpacking through Europe for the past 2 weeks – an amazing and challenging experience to say the least. Travel always sparks a ton of new ideas and creativity in me and I can’t wait to put some of these into motion with the new year ahead. Here is a quick rundown of some of the things I’ve experienced so far:

The Sights

Traveling during the Christmas holiday has definitely made this trip extra special as all the city streets glow with beautiful lights and decorations. Stockholm in particular had stunning colossal displays, definitely taking the prize for going all out Christmas-style.

Frozen Tjörnin in Iceland
Iceland Tjörnin
Beautiful Gamla Stan
Beautiful Gamla Stan

Stockholm at dusk
Holiday smiles :)
Holiday smiles 🙂
Gorgeous nighttime views
Gorgeous nighttime views

The streets of Budapest
The streets of Budapest
Just stunning!
Margit híd
In front of Parliament
View of the Danube
View of the Duna

The Food

Creamy fiskisúpa from Iceland, cured salmon and filmjölk from Sweden… sampling foods from around the world is always a delight!

Budapest was the most wonderful surprise and, to me at least, a foodie’s dream. So much savory, hearty, winter food and the prices are great. Goulash soup, stuffed cabbage rolls, crepe-like pancakes, streudel, all types of sausage. Hot mulled wine and marcipan seem to be everywhere. I definitely ate (and drank) my way through this beautiful city!

fiskisúpa – my fave!
beef goulash
goulash soup
christmas market sweets
christmas market sweets
hungarian sausages
hungarian sausages

The Hair

Ok this seems out of place but I only mention it because my hair takes on an uncontrollable life and personality of its own whenever I travel. To show you what I mean, this is what it normally looks like after using my flat iron back home:

Smooth, shiny, overall easy to manage and keep in order, right?

This is what my hair has looked like pretty much throughout my entire time in Europe and wherever else I go:

Poofy, wavy, unruly, and wild.

I did bring my flat iron with but it doesn’t seem to make a huge difference. After a few hours my hair returns to its natural lion’s mane state as if I did nothing to it to begin with.

Traveling forces me to deal with my self-conscious feelings and accept my hair the way it is, the unruly way it wants to be. It’s as if my hair comes alive when I’m out there and refuses to be boxed in while my spirit is feeling so liberated. In the beginning I try to control it but eventually always give up, realizing it’s just not worth all the stress and work. It’s very freeing after a while and I always feel better once I let go of the need for it to be a certain way.

The Moments

There have been so many unforgettable moments on this journey. Some joy-filled, some funny, some sweet and some utterly miserable, but memorable all the same.

One that stands out to me in particular was Christmas day in Sweden. I had spent the morning exploring Stockholm with a group of hilarious Australian guys that I met at the hostel. I was having so much fun that I lost track of time and realized with horror that I now had just 40 minutes to get across town from Djurgården to my hostel in Norrmalm, pick up my backpack, and get down to the metro center in time to catch my train.

Running wildly and frantically through the streets of Stockholm, in the rain no less, clutching a wet wilted map whilst trying to navigate the streets of this foreign city must have been quite entertaining for others to see. I was out of breath, heaving, sweat pouring down my face though it was cold outside, panicked but at the same time laughing at the absurdity of it all. I needed to make this train. It was the last train leaving Stockholm for the day and my only way out of the city to catch my flight when everything else had shut down for Christmas.

By some sort of miracle (and a 5-block cab save) I made it to the metro with about a minute to spare! Located my train line and managed to dive on board 20 seconds before the train doors closed behind me! I remember sitting back in my seat, panting and stunned, my heartbeat going a mile a minute.

That moment was akin to being on top of the world.

With all the odds against me, in a country that I was not familiar with, a language that I did not understand, I did the seemingly impossible. It felt empowering. I kept thinking YES- this is what it feels like to be alive, really fully alive. What an adventure.

The People

Nothing compares to the people I met on this trip though. And this, I realized, is the best part about solo traveling – you just meet so many people from all walks of life!

Without having a companion always at your side, you are forced to seek out the company of others if you’re feeling lonely. You begin to strike up conversations with people who you’d maybe not stick around to chat with ordinarily.

I randomly started chatting with a pilot in the hotel lobby on Christmas day since there was no one else around. We ended up hitting it off and spent the evening playing pool and swapping travel stories – a wonderful and unexpected end to an already eventful day.

I met people who turned my brain on, made me think, challenged and inspired me. Fearless people from around the world, all riding on a simple desire to travel to faraway places and so they made it happen.

I experienced sweet, unexpected acts of kindness from others like the bus driver who was off duty in Reykjavik but gave me a lift into town anyway when he saw me standing out in the cold. Or the girl on the street in Sweden who I asked for directions and she not only pointed me in the right way but stopped and looked up my exact destination on her phone so I would know the full route.

I became friends with a wonderful group of fellow travelers and spent my time with them laughing and exploring and just thoroughly enjoying life.

And I’ve fallen in love with this way of living, even moreso than before. I know that this is only the beginning.

With a fresh new year ahead and boundless possibilities, here’s to taking risks, following your bliss and pursuing a life that makes YOU feel alive and well!

Happy New Year and so much love!!!